New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet has sustained criticism following a recent Town Board meeting during which she made a comment comparing the lynching of an innocent African-American man wrongfully accused of rape to community opposition of plans to build a sewage treatment plant near the town’s high school.
“[The property near the high school] is one of the four sites that has been reviewed thoroughly in order to understand where we go and what we do, and that’s what’s being presented, and that’s about as far as it’s gone,” Zimet said at the Jan. 15 meeting. “It’s all a bunch of stuff on a piece of paper. But yet all this [opposition], so be it. You know what? It’s like somebody saying that a black man raped that white kid and then they hung him from a tree, but he actually didn’t rape the kid.”
A video clip of Zimet’s comment was shared via social media, where many residents voiced their displeasure with her lack of racial sensitivity. Some who posted were merely looking for an apology from Zimet, while others demanded her resignation.
In an interview with Time Warner Cable News, Zimet stood by her comment, noting that it depicted how dangerous a mob mentality can be to the New Paltz community when it has not yet been finalized where the prospective sewage plant will be built.
Town Board Member Kevin Barry defended Zimet’s comment, according to The Daily Freeman, saying that it was used to illustrate how some members of the community had spoken out against board members about this issue during their public meeting.
“What you had is a bunch of people that got together, that had no self-control and exhibited quite a bit of anger toward the town board,” Barry said. “What she was trying to explain was this anger and this form of behavior that they’re exhibiting is intensifying and it’s reaching the point of a kind of mob mentality — the reference was really to mob mentality, it wasn’t to race.”
On the contrary, Deputy Village Mayor Rebecca Rotzler said she feels that Zimet’s comment was both racially charged and inaccurate in claiming that there is currently a mob mentality on an issue that citizens have the right to be concerned about.
“Using an analogy of that sort in this day and age is extremely insensitive,” Rotzler said. “It was used to stage that the town board members who are working on this plan are innocent and that they’re being accused of wanting to put a sewage treatment plant next to the high school — the accusation is true — they are working towards that. What parent wants their child to be going to school next door to a sewage treatment plant? That’s not mob mentality — that is justified.”
Addressing the social media free-for-all that had followed the meeting, New Paltz Board of Education member Steven Greenfield said he believes Zimet’s undoubtedly crass words have ultimately shifted the focus away from the real issue of concern: the possibility that the treatment plant may be built, funded by tax money, adjacent from the high school on property owned by member of the town board, Kevin Barry.
“Susan spoke extraordinarily gracelessly in comparing her situation of being confronted with dissent in the ordinary performance of her duties on the town board to racial terrorism and murder,” he said. “The intense focus on that one moment has drawn considerable attention away from both the core issue. She was planning to buy another town board member’s land adjoining the high school, with tax money, and build a sewage plant there.”
Barry’s ownership of a prospective site for the treatment plant to be built on is another reason why some New Paltz citizens are in opposition of it being built there, Rotzler said.
“[Barry] should not be sitting at the table when his property is being discussed,” Rotzler said. “He can potentially gain, financially, a great deal of money – which falls on the backs of the taxpayers who are the people who are opposing the sewage treatment plant near the high school.”
At the same Jan. 15 meeting, Zimet addressed a problem concerning a lack of information on the treatment plant being transferred from New Paltz Town Councilman Dan Torres to the board of education at their recent meeting. Zimet expressed that she felt that the lack of proper communication between the two entities was a source of “attacks” targeted at some town board members, noting that she personally has been under fire for “not caring about the kids, throwing the kids under the bus and giving the kids cancer.”
An outburst of audience members reacting to this statement was quelled by Zimet, who then propositioned one of them to “shut the hell up,” and also noted that, “at the end of the day, people will believe what they want to believe.”
Moving forward, Greenfield looks to Zimet and her fellow board members to follow Torres’ resolution in attesting that the town will not pursue plans that place a sewage plant next to any school in New Paltz.
“Zimet has to make a very unambiguously worded public statement retracting and apologizing for the horrific analogy she used [and] to promise that every single piece of information, no matter how trivial it appears, that comes to her desk will go to all town board members, every time,” Greenfield said.